Becoming Minority: How Discourses and Policies Produce Minorities in Europe and India


Edited by: Jyotirmaya Tripathy & Sudarsan Padmanabhan

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    Uwe Skoda

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    The term minority is very fecund. It is all at once already constructed, in the process of being constructed, and yet to be constructed. It is not merely a theory or praxis, but also a discourse. One could pose several questions as to what leads to the construction of minority. Is the conception of minority a revolt against the tyranny of the universal that perennially attempts to camouflage the interstices? Or is it a clash of social imaginaries? Is it a postcolonial conundrum or a malign genie created by the nation state, the pride of modernity? Is it a given essence or a Sisyphean quest for that essence? Is a conception of minority–majority anachronistic in the postmodern/postnational epoch?

    This volume is an endeavor to address some of the questions that animate current scholarship on minority and minoritization. We had initiated such an intervention in our anthology titled The Democratic Predicament: Cultural Diversity in Europe and India (2013) which offered a critical rethinking of democracy and multiculturalism, and implicated the latter not just in the preservation, but also in the production, of cultural diversity. We had touched upon the minority subject formation in Europe and India as an interpellative exercise through which minority is minoritized. The present volume is intended to expand those ideas and trace the processes through which minorities perform as minorities—their discursive formation, narrativization, and representation. It is thus evident that the book moves away from an uncritical understanding of the term minority as a container of some unchanging core ideals, and leads to a framework where minority comes into existence in the very act of representation. Our engagement is less with minority culture and more with the congealing of that culture and the way culture becomes a carrier of group identity and politics. Minority here is not to be seen as a stable practice of timeless values that are ahistorical and acultural, but as a discursive product to articulate a different and resistant experience.

    Most theorists on minority, ethnic, or religious identity treat the minority–majority categories as mere binary opposition, but rarely treat them as constructed and discursive formations. In countries such as India, there was a lot of contestation and negotiation of minority– majority identities even after the caste system became hypostatized. The colonial imposition of the nation-state framework severed traditional and historical links between communities that had given rise to schisms within and without communities hitherto existing together for centuries. Though it is simplistic to believe that there existed a utopian state of deliberative and participatory democracy in the modern sense of the term, one cannot presume eons of raging Hobbesian state of war in which savages were killing each other. In many postcolonial nations in the Third World and post-World War II divisions of Eastern European states, the binary opposition between various religious and ethnic communities deepened further due to the arbitrary imposition of the nation-state framework combined with an unproblematic understanding of multicultural democracy that will make a state inclusive. However, it would be foolhardy to believe that there was an originary moment in the formation of minority identity and difference, or that the making of such an identity is complete. While agreeing with the aforementioned historical periods in the production of minority difference, we would like to propose here that the process of becoming minority will continue, and that such becoming will not be autonomous of our political cultures and their expediencies.

    Borrowing from Bhabha (discussed later in Chapter 1), we may say that more often than not, the minority–majority distinction in both popular and academic literature is more pedagogical than performative, which makes the entire discourse shaky and vulnerable. What Bhabha identifies as the vulnerability of a discourse is its inability to confront its own historical contingency. In a minority–majority discourse, there is a split narrative of identities. Such a split in the narratives of national identities is classified as the pedagogical and the performative. The pedagogical totalizes people whose social and political identities are defined in terms of a homogeneous and consensual community. On the other hand, the performative is specific and addresses unequal interests and identities within a population, and their ways of living preestablished categories. What is germane to the crux of the discussion in this volume is whether the concept of minority is self-imagined or externally imposed, or both. This is where an understanding of split narrative of national identities assumes tremendous importance. This volume attempts to show that there is an irresolvable tension between the pedagogical and the performative narratives which obscures a nuanced understanding of the concept of minority.

    The title of the book may sound a little intriguing because of the term “becoming,” used here as a verb rather than an adjective, which refers to the ways through which minorities are ascribed an identity and also identify themselves as minorities. This “becoming” nature of minorities and their performativity contest the conventional wisdom of understanding minority as a fixed essence that cannot be questioned or debated. Our thesis is apparently provocative, given that the present time of democracy, in varying degrees, has accepted the politics of recognition as a gateway to inclusive polity. One may dismiss our “becoming” thesis on the ground that minority right has not only been acknowledged by democracies, but also has been made the basis of affirmative policies that protect minority religion, culture, language, and so on. Why then this debate which has no future in terms of policy implications?

    We would like to respond that policies are historical and are made on the basis of a particular type of analysis that interprets contemporary times in a certain way. If multiculturalism was the toast of many European states, now we see a visible backlash against such projects. Similarly, Indian democracy has witnessed a visible anxiety, if not outright rejection, of minority politics (often derided as minority appeasement) that has affected social cohesion. However, we are not here to make any value judgment on the propriety or suspicion of such projects, nor do we intend to propose the need for such a backlash vis-à-vis minority rights. Our intention is modest, and is confined to the need for some kind of academic honesty while debating minority culture and the rights based on it. We see our aim not as one of constructing rights on the basis of particular cultures, but of deconstructing the idea of culture itself which makes the debate on minority rights much more problematic.

    It is because of this reason that we use a poststructuralist framework to address minority difference that challenges the existence of origin and core. The questions we are interested in are: How does one come to see oneself as minor?; how is he perceived as a minor?; how is the knowledge of minority produced?; what are the narrative techniques that are used to weave minority identity?; whether minority identity exists before its representation; and so on. The reader may well understand that here we are interested in the delivery of minority knowledge and the stylization of minority subjects in becoming a minority category.

    Unfortunately, the academic community has not responded to the constructed nature of minority identity, though a large body of such literature already exists on race, ethnicity, and gender. Similar literature also exists on the invention of majority Hindu culture or majority “white” ways of life. But academic theorizing has not sufficiently addressed the possibility of construction of minority culture that can complicate the question of minority rights. When we look at the academic output on minority studies from a constructivist framework, it does not come as a surprise that there has not been any significant effort (barring a few stray attempts) to raise these issues which are routinely discussed and debated in cultural studies. We imagine this book to bring some freshness in the area of minority studies, or what we call critical minority studies, by moving away from predictable, repetitive, routinized academic enterprises which see minority redemption in democracy and multiculturalism.

    The Design of the Book

    The book draws upon European and Indian experiences of cultural diversities to address the issues raised above. Europe and India are two of the most culturally diverse regions in the world and engage with diversity from within a democratic framework. Though we acknowledge different historicities in terms of the minority question in Europe and India, our poststructuralist template is aimed at creating a common platform from where both Europe and India can articulate themselves vis-à-vis their minority practices. The first part of this book, “The Making of Minority,” consists of chapters raising theoretical/conceptual questions relating to minority identity formation. The second part, “The European Experience,” draws from specific historical realities or case studies pertaining to Europe, and the third part, “The Indian Experience,” engages with material experiences of India. These parts, however, are not intended as watertight compartments, but as a convenient way of structuring the anthology. In varying degrees, all the chapters reinforce our central thesis of “becoming minority.”

    Chapter 1 by the present editors historicizes minority politics by locating the latter in post-Cold War Europe and post-independence India. It offers a framework which shifts the attention away from an essential notion of minority identity to the processes through which minorities recognize themselves as minority. Drawing from poststructuralist vocabulary, the authors argue that minority as a politically invested term makes sense in representation which interpellates and inserts minorities into the larger domain of democratic multicultural discourse, and it is during these moments that minorities perform themselves as minorities. Chapter 2 by Barbara Franz continues with the need for historicizing the minority desire for recognition and tells us how the politics of naming and labeling are crucial for membership of groups. This chapter focuses on the minorities in Central Europe, and emphasizes the importance of specific ethnic minorities within the processes that led to the creation of modern nation states. Chapter 3 by Lajwanti Chatani attempts to understand the trend of asserting minority identity by various identity groups. It explores the underlying conceptual framework of justice on which the rights of minorities rest, but argues that justice can be discursive, and so any attempt to freeze it as absolute would rid it of its empowering credo.

    The second part opens with Chapter 4 by Abdoulaye Gueye, which seeks to explain the manufacturing of racial minority, with a particular emphasis upon blackness in contemporary France, and argues that blackness is less an essence than a sociological outcome. The formation of blackness operates at the intersection of three major realms of meanings: propaganda discourse, belief, and material production. In other words, to bring blackness into existence is to say that it is real, to make people believe so, and to display facts supporting and fueling this belief. Chapter 5 by Ulf Mörkenstam argues that the construction of indigenous peoples in the national discourse of the countries in which they live is of importance in the justification of a continued colonization. To substantiate that argument, the author analyzes Swedish Sámi politics during the current century with a specific focus on how the indigenous Sámi people have been constructed in discourse.

    Chapter 6 by Sherrill Stroschein highlights the role of discursive and symbolic resources in political attempts at secession. The chapter outlines how the 1997 devolution for Scotland has provided an institutional resource for the Scottish National Movement. However, the author believes that the institutions of devolution did not only serve as material and infrastructural resource; they also provided a symbolic and ideational context for rhetorical and discursive disputes with the Conservative–Liberal Democrat British government established in Westminster in 2010. Chapter 7 by Apostolos Agnantopoulos maps the rivalry between the Greek-Orthodox majority and a Turkish/Muslim minority in Western Thrace, a region on the northeast border of Greece. This chapter argues that this enduring tension can be attributed to two factors: the prevalence of an exclusionary nation-state identity which has prevented the full internalization of European norms on minority protection, and the fact that the application of multicultural principles can be problematic, when minority issues are intertwined with competing nationalist claims and acute security concerns.

    Chapter 8 by Peter Hervik looks at the drastic shift in the construction of minority others that came with the emergence of neonationalism, neoracism, and radical right populism in the post-1989 world. Through an analysis of a political philosophy launched in Denmark in the 1990s called the “Cultural War of Values,” it argues that the social construction of thick minority identities can only be understood in relation to the cultural war of value strategy aimed at domestic political opponents. Chapter 9 by Paul Mutsaers, Hans Siebers, and Arie de Ruijter seeks to comprehend how matters of ethnicity, politics, and economy interrelate in The Netherlands by looking at the direct impact of migrant-hostile politics on ethnic boundaries on the labor market and in educational settings. The authors show that migrant-hostile policies and dominant discourses are complicit in turning such spaces into fertile breeding grounds of what they call “ethno-manufacturing”. Chapter 10 by Gëzim Alpion proposes that Enoch Powell's speeches in the late 1960s reflected a “traditional” stance toward immigrants as well as a concern about the demographic changes which were taking place in England from the mid-1950s. It contends that the emphasis that Powell put on communalism was a casus belli for his eugenic solution to the immigration problem, and approaches his castigation by the British elites as a “timely” intervention to curb the rise of “ethnic” nationalism in England. The chapter is intended as a critique of Powell's essentialist views on ethnicity.

    We turn to the third part with Chapter 11 by Bishnu N. Mohapatra. The chapter gathers many themes, evokes many ideological contestations, and conjures up conflicting visions about the state and nation. It looks at the “minority question” from the vantage points of institutions, policies, and larger governmental technologies. It also analyzes the historical contexts through which discourses on “minorities” evolved in India. The larger argument in this chapter is that as entities of history and government policies, minority groups experience their identities and their existence as constantly changing, often slippery, and greatly subjected to past historical trajectories. Chapter 12 by Mohamed Mehdi discusses the concept of hurt religious feelings and the corresponding politics of outrage in relation to what it means to be Muslim in the Indian context. The chapter draws a connection between the legal category of hurt religious feelings, its use in particular cases, and its assumptions about the nature of religious feeling. It also examines the particular picture of the emotional subject that emerges, and its implications for an emancipatory politics. Chapter 13 by Malavika Menon takes us back in time and tells us how the members drafting the Indian Constitution, while giving Indian minorities certain rights, stopped short of addressing the crucial question as to who is a minority. She addresses this question through the discursive practices of select Supreme Court cases and analyzes how they have impacted the concern of established minority communities in India.

    Chapter 14 by Shireen Mirza links urban space and Waqf properties to describe the creation of a segregated Shi‘a Muslim quadrant in Hyderabad's old city. Through this, it describes the process of constructing homogeneous Muslim space as well as the epistemic emergence of religious minority as a category. It also argues that the category of the minority, while homogenizing identities, can also be enabling when seen in relation to community space and collective experience. Chapter 15 by Anjana Raghavan is an attempt to expand the scope of minority by locating the latter within oppositional narratives. She primarily deals with the ideological construction and production of minor-ness, both as a category and an identity marker vis-à-vis the mythologized and origin narratives of Tamil identity. Her aim is to create a space to articulate these issues through the selective exploration of Tamil identity narratives by both their creators as well as their dissenters.



    An edited volume such as this is a collective and participatory exercise which makes an otherwise ritualistic acknowledgment more meaningful. As we write this part, we are filled with gratitude to the European Commission which provided financial assistance in 2009 to start the Centre for Comparative European Union Studies in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras. The Centre in turn created and sustained interest in us to engage with Europe and India from a comparative framework which continues till date. Our former Head of Department, V. R. Muraleedharan, had played a crucial role in planning the Centre by forming a core group which included the present editors. Our deepest gratitude goes to him.

    This book was conceived during our stay in the guest house of Aarhus University, Denmark, when we were there as Visiting Fellows in 2010. Now that the book has become a reality, we are reminded of the warmth and care we received from Aarhus University friends, particularly Uwe Skoda and Niels Brimnes. As we visited various European universities, we received immense support from Jakub Zajaczkowski (Warsaw University), Rahul Rao (SOAS, London), Luciano Segreto (University of Florence), Riva Kastoryano (SciencesPo, Paris), Beate Zimpelmann (Hochschule Bremen, Germany), Gerard Delanty (University of Sussex), Jean-Philippe Imbert, Aileen Pearson-Evans, and Debbie Ging (Dublin City University), and many others. Without their encouragement, this book would have been poorer.

    The debt incurred at home is equally great, particularly from our Institute colleagues and students who gave us the opportunity to respond critically to the minority question and its various implications. Though many discussions were informal in nature, they made us conscious of the contested terrain of minority discourse. We would like to thank Umakant Dash, R. Swarnalatha, S. Mohan, and other colleagues.

    We are immensely grateful to all our contributors who were flexible enough to adapt to the timeline set by us. We cannot thank them enough for having given us the opportunity to learn from them and for helping us to create a critical mass in relation to critical minority studies. This book is a tribute to all of them.

    We had the privilege of having wonderful families who always understood, and to some extent appreciated, our frequent absence from home. We thank Sanghamitra, Akankhya, and Hema for their constant support which, though non-academic, always made the difference.

    Finally, and very importantly, we are thankful to Rudra Narayan Sharma of SAGE Publications for his commitment to the project in spite of frequent delays from our side.

  • About the Editors and Contributors


    Jyotirmaya Tripathy is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, India. His broad area of interest is cultural studies, particularly in the questions of identity and representation. He has published in these areas in journals like Social Semiotics, Development in Practice, Journal of Developing Societies, International Journal of Cultural Studies, Journal of Third World Studies, etc.

    Sudarsan Padmanabhan received his PhD from University of South Florida and worked at Kenyon College, Ohio, USA, before joining the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras in 2007. He specializes in social and political philosophy, and Indian philosophy and culture. His research interest lies in the confluence of law, democracy, and ethics in the public sphere. He has published in these domains in various journals and edited volumes including the Routledge Handbook of Cosmopolitanism Studies.


    Apostolos Agnantopoulos is a research associate at the Centre for International Studies, Dublin City University. After completing a PhD from the University of Birmingham, he taught as a lecturer at the University of Westminster and Dublin City University. His research interests lie in the field of Greek foreign policy, the Cyprus conflict, EU external relations, and Europeanization.

    Gëzim Alpion holds a bachelor's degree from Cairo University and a PhD from Durham University, UK. He is currently lecturer in Sociology at the University of Birmingham in England. He is considered “the most authoritative English language author” on Mother Teresa. His most well-known study to date is Mother Teresa: Saint or Celebrity? (2007).

    Lajwanti Chatani is a professor in political theory at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, and a convener of the Forum on Contemporary Theory, Vadodara, India. She is joint editor of the Journal of Contemporary Thought. She has edited a special issue of the journal (Vol. 27, Summer 2008) on “Revisiting the Political.” She has also contributed to curriculum development and course materials pertaining to political theory at the Indira Gandhi National Open University and the National Council of Educational Research and Training, New Delhi.

    Barbara Franz (PhD, Syracuse University) is a professor of political science. Her research interests juxtapose the phenomenon of mass migrations and refugee movements and what they mean for the stability of nations, the increasing potential of culture clashes within societies, and the root causes of migration movements. Her book Uprooted and Unwanted: Bosnian Refugees in Austria and the United States (2005) focuses on the experience of Bosnian refugees, especially women, in two host countries with vastly different settlement and social welfare policies. Her articles have appeared in journals such as New Political Science, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, European Journal of Women Studies, Feminist Review, AWR Bulletin, etc.

    Abdoulaye Gueye is professor of sociology at the University of Ottawa. He is the author of Les Africains Africains en France, African Intellectuals in France (2001) and Aux Negres de France la Patrie non Reconnaissance, To the Negroes of France the Ungrateful Motherland (2010). He has also (co)edited several books and journal issues. His work on blackness in the French context has appeared in several journals including The Du Bois Review, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and French Cultural Studies. In 2009, he was Fellow at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University.

    Peter Hervik holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Copenhagen, and is currently a professor at the Centre for the Study of Migration and Diversity (CoMID) at Aalborg University. Hervik has conducted research among the Yucatec Maya of Mexico and in Denmark on issues of identity, categorization, neoracism, neonationalism, ethnicity, multiculturalism, tolerance, and the news media. Besides teaching at the University of Copenhagen, Hervik has taught at the department of social anthropology, University of Oslo, minority studies, University of Copenhagen, International Migration and Ethnic Relations (IMER), and Malmö University, and recently completed six months as a visiting professor at Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo.

    Mohamed Mehdi is associate professor of philosophy at Oakton Community College, near Chicago, USA. He received his PhD in philosophy from McGill University in 2008. His interests are in ancient political philosophy and in the political thought of 20th-century anti-colonial movements, particularly in India. He has also written and presented on the relevance of the humanities in higher education today, on the role of emotion in political action, and on Muslim identity in the West after the “War on Terror.”

    Malavika Menon is currently a researcher at the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, New Delhi. She is pursuing her PhD in the study of minority educational institutions in India, from the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She undertook a review of the organizer for her MPhil, attempting to understand ideas of nationalism and secularism as reflected in the text.

    Shireen Mirza is an Assistant Professor at the department of humanities and social sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. After completing her PhD from the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, she carried out her postdoctoral research as part of the TISS–Max Planck “Urban Aspirations” project. Her research interests lie in areas of social anthropology of religion and identity, urbanization, and development, and globalization and modernity.

    Bishnu N. Mohapatra is a professor at Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India. He has taught politics at the Centre for Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University and University of Delhi, India, and has held visiting faculty positions at the University of Kyoto, Japan, and the National University of Singapore. He headed the governance portfolio of the Ford Foundation's South Asia office at New Delhi from 2002 to 2010. He is also a well-known Indian poet who writes in Oriya.

    Ulf Mörkenstam is associate professor of political science at Stockholm University. His main fields of research are political theory and Swedish political history. In political theory, he has especially focused upon the normative debate on minority rights. He has written extensively on Swedish Sámi politics, and migration policy.

    Paul Mutsaers is working as a PhD candidate at the Tilburg School of Humanities, Tilburg University (The Netherlands), and at the Police Academy of The Netherlands. He is working on a dissertation about ethnic diversity among the Dutch police.

    Anjana Raghavan is a final year doctoral scholar in the department of humanities and social sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. She has a master's degree in cultural studies from Goldsmiths College, University of London, with a focus on gender and sexuality. Her research interests include the politics of corporeality, affect, and belonging, as well as re-imagining solidarities in the margins, particularly in South Asia.

    Arie de Ruijter is professor of social sciences at Tilburg University. His research interests include issues of social cohesion, organization culture, and development cooperation. He is the dean of the Tilburg School of Humanities, chair of the National Commission for Development Cooperation, and director of the Centre for Global Citizenship (Amsterdam).

    Hans Siebers is associate professor at the Tilburg School of Humanities, Tilburg University, The Netherlands. His research focus is on ethnic identity, ethnic relations, and ethnic inequality in work and education settings. His main quest is to discover the factors and processes that fuel the erection of ethnic boundaries in such settings, using both ethnographic and quantitative research strategies. He is also program director of the international Master Management of Cultural Diversity.

    Sherrill Stroschein is a senior lecturer (associate professor) at University College London, where she directs the program in democracy and comparative politics. She was previously at Ohio University and the Harvard Academy for international and area studies. Her research examines the politics of ethnicity in democracies with mixed populations.

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